More than 70 recipients of this year’s National Film Awards have decided to skip the ceremony on Thursday evening as President Ram Nath Kovind will present only 11 out of nearly 140 awards, the Hindustan Times reported. Minister for Information and Broadcasting Smriti Irani will give away the other awards.

This is a departure from the tradition of the president presenting the award every year in the presence of the information and broadcasting minister.

It was announced during a rehearsal of the presentation ceremony on Wednesday that Kovind would not be able to stay for the whole ceremony, an unidentified official told the Hindustan Times. By the time he arrives at 5.30 pm, only 11 awards will be left to be presented. The ceremony will begin at 4 pm at Vigyan Bhawan in New Delhi.

In a letter to the Directorate of Film Festivals, the president’s office and the Information and Broadcasting Ministry, the artistes said they were “disheartened” on being given the update at the last minute. “It feels like a breach of trust when an institution/ceremony that abides by extreme protocol fails to inform us of such a vital aspect of the ceremony with a notice,” they said in the letter. “It seems unfortunate that 65 years of tradition are being overturned in a jiffy.”

The winners said they had discussed the matter with Irani on Wednesday and she had promised to respond. If she does not, “we are left with no option but to be absent for the ceremony”, they said.

“We do not intend to boycott the award but are not attending the ceremony to convey our discontent and are awaiting a more just solution,” the letter read.

“The fact that the president will be available at the awards function for one hour was communicated to the organisers weeks in advance,” Kovind’s press secretary Ashok Malik told the Hindustan Times. “It has been the practice ever since the president took over that except for Republic Day or very important meetings, he will spend up to an hour at all other functions.”

Kaushik Ganguly, whose Bengali film Nagarkirtan has won four awards, told News18: “It is quite unfortunate. [The government] must not forget that they are national award winners, they are the best in the country. And if the president does not have time for them and he can’t spare two hours on a prefixed date, it is pretty unfortunate. Secondly, the moment you ask a minister to hand over an award it becomes political.”